Rain cements Marco's debut MotoGP front row start


As predicted the weather for the French Grand Prix took a turn for the worse during the final qualifying session, held May 24, cementing MotoGP rookie Marco Melandri's debut front row start for tomorrow's 28-lap race. The young Italian posted a 1'36.161 aboard his Fortuna Yamaha Team YZR-M1 in the dry Friday qualifier to be the fourth fastest in a field of 23 entries. In what will be only his second MotoGP race - since the high-speed incident in Suzuka that put Melandri out of contention for the first two races this season - the talented 20-year-old will start Sunday's main event alongside polesitter and defending MotoGP World Champion Valentino Rossi (Honda, 1'35.208), Alex Barros (Gauloises Yamaha Team, 1'35.985) and third place qualifier Loris Capirossi (Ducati, 1'36.019).

It was a similar story for Barros, who will start his fourth race with the YZR-M1 from second on the grid after initially posting a provisional pole time during the final few minutes of the Friday qualifier - only to have Rossi snatch the prime location from his grasp. With no opportunity to improve his time in the wet conditions Barros spent both free practice and qualifying focussed on producing a competitive set-up in preparation for what could possibly be a wet Le Mans MotoGP. Although satisfied with today's achievement the Brazilian still feels there is room for improvement with the base wet setting and will continue testing into tomorrow's morning warm-up to improve drive off the turns.

Fortuna Yamaha Team rider Carlos Checa produced a 1'36.240 in Friday's dry qualifier, placing him sixth behind Max Biaggi (Honda, 1'36.169). Although confident that he could have advanced further up the grid if the conditions remained the same today, the Spaniard still finished the second qualifier with a smile, despite the rain - secure in the fact he has a strong package if the French weather does not improve.

Gauloises Yamaha Team
Alex Barros 2nd, 1'35.985:
"We have had a big problem with grip in these conditions. We have improved in this area since this morning, and now it isn't so bad when the bike is banked over, but on the straights we are still struggling with the rear tyre spinning as soon as I open the throttle. It is particularly bad on the old tarmac, over the second part of the circuit, and setting up the bike for the two types of surfaces is a real headache. Personally I'm hoping it will be dry for tomorrow!"

Olivier Jacque 16th, 1'36.962: "Obviously I'm very disappointed that today's wet conditions didn't allow me to improve my time. Starting from the fourth row on the grid at my home GP isn't exactly what I was hoping for. Still, even if we haven't got a great dry set-up, I'm hoping for a dry race tomorrow. Today in the wet we lacked grip out of the corners and the rear tyre is spinning a lot down the straights. We tried a number of different types of tyre but none gave us what we were looking for. At the end of the session I was starting to think I needed to put on some weight!"

Fortuna Yamaha Team
Marco Melandri 4th, 1'36.161:
"I'm actually not as happy as I was yesterday because I couldn't really go fast today because of the weather. But I can't complain because I'm on the front row and it's only my second race of the year with the M1. Riding this bike in wet conditions is completely different to riding it in the dry but I do have some wet weather experience from winter tests, as we had some really bad weather in our tests in Jerez. Seriously I am delighted with today's result because two weeks ago I was on the fourth row, which was a totally different situation. I also wasn't at my best physically then but I am feeling so much better now. Many riders crashed today so I am quite glad I didn't push too hard. I'm going to keep thinking positive, that the weather will be better tomorrow, and let's see what happens."

Carlos Checa 6th, 1'36.240: "We've been working on our wet weather set-up and I feel much more comfortable this afternoon than I did this morning. We have tested the right tyres with Michelin and I got a good feeling. There are still some parts of the track where I'm finding it difficult to go faster, at the exit of many turns particularly. I had so much speed and maybe not enough traction. It's quite difficult here to transfer all the power through the tyres onto the asphalt. Anyway we have a good base from yesterday, and I have a good position on the grid so hopefully we will do well. The only thing that we can't control is the weather!"

D'Antin Yamaha Team
Shinya Nakano 9th, 1'36.512:
"It was a very tough session for me. Today I didn't manage to ride too confidently. I recognise that I don't like wet weather riding that much, but usually it is not a problem for me. We have been testing different settings for wet conditions, but with this heavy rain it is always very difficult. In tomorrow's warm-up we'll try more possibilities. I have my fingers crossed for a sunny Sunday."

Yamaha Factory Testing Team
Norick Abe 10th, 1'36.617:
"It was a difficult day today because riding in the wet is always very risky, but when you have only one bike you can not take too many chances. If you crash part way through the session you're left without a bike for the rest of the time. That makes finding an ideal set-up a real challenge. Even so I like this track, and I like riding in the wet, so I'm looking forward to tomorrow's race, wet or dry."